An opportunity arose for me to broaden my volunteering and Spanish horizons: I volunteered as a translator for Central High School’s parent/teacher conferences. It was an incredibly enlightening experience. While I lived in Costa Rica for a summer and sometimes translated between my host family and my friends, I have never been a translator. This time, I was worried that the pressure would make me fumble with my words, or that I just plain did not have good enough skills to do a good job. However, I knew it would be a great experience and I really wanted to help, so I went!
The counselor’s office was a flurry of activity, with families coming in and out and Spanish flying all around. It was a bit overwhelming. The mom of my assigned family arrived, and we were off. She was so nice, and she cared a lot about her son and his future. She asked every teacher not only what she could do to help, but what her son needed to do to improve his grades. She wants him to succeed at his dreams of being a computer programmer as much as he does. I do not know if I have met very many parents like that. The second family I met was awesome as well. I met with the father and his son, a senior at Central. That was a really fun experience because, although the son was bilingual, he let me translate the things he and his teachers talked about to his dad. I still do not know why he did that, but it made me feel more like I belonged there helping, that my Spanish is enough to communicate. I was never questioned by either the teachers or the families about whether I was translating correctly; they all respected me and appreciated the fact that I was there.
One of the teachers confused me. He/She [note from Ann Abbott: we are using he/she here to protect the identity of the teacher] clearly has had a lot of experience teaching Hispanic students and even knows Spanish. I expected him/her to be very understanding of the hardships Spanish-speaking and even bilingual students face. Instead, he/she came off very blunt and callous. I understand that some students need stricter guidance, and the majority of his/her comments were instructive, but he/she said some things that could have been viewed as racist. Basically, when he/she talked to a student or parent, he/she grouped all Latino students together; he/she commented that they all were happy with their Spanish skills and therefore did not care about improving. I realize that, while this may be a trend he/she has seen during his/her years teaching, it seemed unjust to not only stereotype every Latino student into that one group, but to present that idea to Latinos. That just astounded me. I did not have the chance to talk to the students or their parents about that teacher, nor did I feel it was my place to confront her. I suppose I was expecting more from a teacher who sees and comes to know many Hispanic students.
Overall, Central High School provided an incredibly fun and enlightening learning experience for me. It solidified my thoughts about wanting to translate for at least a little while after I graduate this spring. It helped me remember why I love being bilingual. I think I may have gained more from this experience than I gave!